Back in the days of Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64, three was typically the optimal number of players. Any more than that, and the engine would begin to chug. Hard. It was a common sight on the N64, which for all of its popularity as a party machine, frequently struggled with framerate issues when more players entered the fray (see also: Goldeneye 007).
Hence, it's a wonder to see not four, not six, but eight people playing Super Smash Bros. at once on the Wii U with nary a dropped frame to be seen. As you might expect, it's utterly insane, but it's a good kind of insane—the kind of insane that a lot of people have come to expect from this series. I'm already counting up my controllers in my mind for my next big party.
Nintendo dumped many of the details for the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros. via a Nintendo Direct stream last night, which Mike thoughtfully catalogued here. The list is quite impressive: the return of events (something I missed in the 3DS version), multiple new stages, and a full-on Mario Party-like multiplayer game called Smash Tour. It's an impressive package, and undoubtedly the most ambitious Smash Bros. to date.
The eight player multiplayer is what has everyone's attention, though, mainly because the scale just boggles the mind. Can Smash Bros. really fit that many characters on the screen at once? Heck, is it possible to fit that many people on a couch at once? By the way, I discovered the answer to the latter question last night. I ended up having to sit on the floor next to the coffee table, which brought me back to the parties I would occasionally hold in my dorm room in college where there was only one couch and very little room to sit.
Crammed in front of one of two massive televisions, I ended up playing two matches with seven others, almost all of us using GameCube controllers (one person was on the Wii U gamepad). Only a handful of stages, most of them really large, are available for eight-player Smash Bros., but for whatever reason, the random stage selection gave us Bridge of Eldin. If you don't remember Bridge of Eldin from Smash Bros. Brawl, it's basically a flat platform with no pits on either side. The line of characters stretched from one side of the screen to the other, and all hell immediately broke loose as everyone started hopping, dodging, and lashing out left and right with smash attacks.
Playing as Greninja, whom I've grown to like very much in the Nintendo 3DS version, I responded by dodge rolling to the edge of the fray on the left side of the screen and basically camping there. That was where I able to stay for pretty much the entire battle, only occasionally using my Forward + B Shadow Sneak attack or Substitute counter to score a knockout. If the bedlam got too close, I would start dodge rolling to the other side of the screen, occasionally stopping to use a smash attack on someone if the opportunity to present itself.
Soon enough, my opponents began to dwindle until it was just me and three other people—a more typical Smash Bros. battle. Luckily, I had two stock remaining to their one, so I was able to hold out until I was left facing Mario for the victory. Mario, it should be said, was being controlled by a Nintendo employee, and as expected, they were pretty good. After the usual dodging and rolling however, I was able to score the knockout blow and pose for my victory.
Admittedly, Bridge of Eldin is not the best place for an eight-player Smash Bros. battle, but I enjoyed the novelty of the chaos erupting all around me. The second battle, which took place on a huge new level based on Kirby Superstar, was much more conducive to eight-player engagements though, and I ultimately enjoyed it more.
At this moment, I would like to pause for a moment to note that I've never had use for the gigantic stages in Smash Bros. until now. Whenever Hyrule Temple would pop up in Melee (and later Brawl), I would always let out a huge sigh, because I knew the battle would ultimately devolve into someone sitting in the little area beneath the stage and whacking anyone who got too close. My girlfriend, who loved played as the Ice Climbers, loved that little area. Outside of that little spot, knockouts pretty much had to be scored off the top of the screen because the stage was so vast that it was possible to recover from even a strong hit at a high damage percentage.
With eight players, the gigantic stage felt like it had a purpose for the very first time, as it afforded space for several smaller skirmishes to break out. Admittedly, it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to keep track of my character, since there was so much going on that it was quite possible to lose track fo where I was on the stage. Since I was playing as Link, I would occasionally end up firing arrows just to see where I was.
As the number of players on the stage once again began to dwindle, the battle became more localized in one area of the map. Most of the action took place on a platform above me, so I mostly hung out below, occasionally throwing bombs up top or attacking with an upward stab. Amazingly, nobody came down to get me to knock it off, so I once again ended up going into the final battle with a stock advantage, which saw me emerging the victor.
"Are you a really big fan of Smash Bros., Kat?" Joystiq's Ludwig Kietzmann asked me after the match.
My answer: Of course I am. I've been playing this came since high school, and I've never gotten tired of it. I can play Smash Bros. all day long.
As Smash Bros. modes go, I'll grant that eight-player multiplayer isn't much more than a novelty, since I'm unlikely to get that many people together for one game unless I'm at some kind of large party. With that said, however, I don't really have to worry about someone being a fifth wheel anymore, since eight-player Smash Bros. can be played with fewer than the maximum number of people. The other secret strength of Smash Bros. eight-player is that it's surprisingly easy to pull off. As someone who's owned the last three generations of Nintendo consoles, I have all the controllers I need practically by default, which is not something I can say for any other platform that I own. I mean, I had to go out and buy a second PlayStation 4 controller on the spot just so I could play a game of FIFA with my friend.
Novelty or not, it's just one of many excellent additions to the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros., which is looking more exciting than ever. Next month can't come soon enough.